Newmont versus the vulnerable – my week in court

This week I spent 4 days in the Environment Court with some Waihi residents opposing the expansion of the mining activities in the Martha pit. It is a small variation on the 1987 Mining Licence but it could lead a new large scale underground gold mine. At the hearing, the manawhenua Ngati Hako were raising issues about the need to rest the mountain after it has been seriously undermined. The residents were arguing that 24 hour a day underground exploration with more blasting and noise was the last straw for them. Of course the mining company could afford experts in vibration and noise to prove us all wrong according to international standards of acceptability to the majority. But for me the testimony of the local witnesses made more sense.

The residents described the sleepless nights and the endless complaints registered with the company. Even following the complaints, the mine in a residential area so even if they try to be quiet there is still disturbance. We heard from some people about cracks in their houses and from others about being too angry to complain. We saw the complaints map and heard all about broken sleep and houses losing their value. The company lawyer was astonished that I was advocating that the consents be designed to protect the most vulnerable. He thought this was a ludicrous departure from the norm of protecting the majority.

But the most outrageous aspect of the whole case was the minimal involvement of the Hauraki District Council who supposedly represent the residents of the district in terms of wise resource management. They made little contribution to the process, called one witness and demonstrated no leadership on the issues affecting some of the people of Waihi.

I was proud to support the brave lay people who gave up their time to lay down a challenge about their future given that mining is expanding in that town. I don’t see gold plated streets, no beautiful swimming pool and no thriving cafe society, it has only been 25 years of digging and exporting this mineral.

The case wasn’t allowed to cover the ticking time bomb of the Baxter’s Rd tailings dump – 40 million tonnes of toxic waste and counting. But whatever the outcome it was a real education for me to be back in the Environment Court faking it as if it was “Boston Legal”, knowing we had few cards in our pack except our solidarity and our belief in breaking the silence that more mining won’t affect some people quite badly in Waihi.

The hearing was extremely well managed by the Judge and Commissioner but I won’t forget the tears of my friends and their friends when they told their stories. I salute their genuine courage and expertise!

9 Comments Posted

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  2. “What quaint ideas stone age tribal cultures have? Here we are in the 21st century, at a pinnacle in human development..”

    The pinnacle of human development apparently including massive inequality, frequent and bloody wars, lack of basic food and clean water for billions, rampant environmental destruction, and of course, the technology to allow people to make childish and offensive comments in public while preserving their anonymity.

  3. I concur with your comments about Hauraki District Council. Unfortunatly Hawkes Bay Regional Council and Taranaki Regional Council would proberbly be in the same boat. A great use of 4 days of your time Catherine. More useful than 4 days in the house listening to the children play

  4. Yes, good work Catherine. For all the right wingers speak of level playing fields, they don’t seem to exist when local people are trying to protect their homes, communities and environment. Lawyers & ‘experts’ are paid to argue against ordinary people who have taken time off work to be there. It takes a lot of work to get as far as the environment court, I’m sure your support was appreciated by those involved. More good on the ground work from our Green MPs, damn shame the local body politicians don’t seem aware of who they are supposed to be representing.

  5. “were raising issues about the need to rest the mountain after it has been seriously undermined”

    What quaint ideas stone age tribal cultures have? Here we are in the 21st century, at a pinnacle in human development, powered by science and technology, and we still get this stuff.

  6. If the Greens are against everything like this, how do you intend to pay for things to tackle climate change, requiring overseas funds, such as wind turbines and rail loops, etc. Or do we just put it on the plastic and let the kids pay for it. Or, is climate change not quite as important as other things (like stopping mining)? IMHO It’s starting to sound like it.

    Off-topic but is this really what MPs are supposed to do? Heh. How do I get one of them “jobs”.

  7. Hauraki District Council is avoiding its core responsibility to the people and the environment, but even so probably looks after its core reponsiblities better than the Buller District Council, which appears to be accountable only to business

  8. Well done, Catherine, all around New Zealand for a variety of reasons people are having their basic rights sidelined for commercial activities that don’t support their communities. Gold mines and coal mines have a long history of causing environmental and social destruction.

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